Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

8 Books With Provocative Titles

With over one million books published each year, and probably a hundred times that submitted to publishing houses for consideration, you’ve got to do everything you can to stand out. That’s the beauty of provocative titles: at a glance, they get people so upset, or angry, or curious, or enthusiastic that the title is going to stick in their mind (which gets them one step closer to buying and reading it). I love a good provocative title, if for no other reason than they usually spawn endless hot takes on Twitter. Here are 8 of my favourite books with provocative titles…

8 Books With Provocative Titles - Keeping Up With The Penguins
If this post provokes you to buy anything, just so you know, I get a tiny commish when you do it through a link on this site.

Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race - Reni Eddo-Lodge - Keeping Up With The Penguins

People tend to fall into one of two camps with Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race: either they love it, and sigh with recognition, or they hate it and take to the Amazon reviews to explain exactly why. I, for one, think it’s brilliant – and the cover design is a real level-up. By embossing the “to white people” and disguising it against a white background, Eddo-Lodge and her publishers have created a book that always, always, always makes people look twice. This is extra-important given the book’s timely and crucial contents! Read my full review of Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race here.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist - Roxane Gay - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Loath as I am to think about it, there are certain corners of the world where it’s still controversial to call yourself a feminist. So, surely that must make admitting to being a “bad” feminist – a feminist who likes pink and sings along to misogynistic hip hop – doubly provocative. Bad Feminist caused a few ripples, to be sure. Gay herself calls the title, the brand, Bad Feminist “a bit of a provocation” in her TED Talk. It’s this kind of radical vulnerability and openness that makes Gay such a brilliant thinker and writer. Read my full review of Bad Feminist.

Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows - Balli Kaur Jaswal - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Some people might be embarrassed to be seen holding a copy of Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows on the train. Not me! Ask me about it! I dare ya! I double dare ya! This delightful, sharp, and heart-warming story has a provocative title, but it’s about the strength of women and the power of a story, neither of which should be particularly controversial when you get down to it. Plus, I don’t understand why people are more than happy to openly read books about men with guns, but ashamed to read books about women with desire.

Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit

Men Explain Things To Me - Rebecca Solnit - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Imagine if all the men who whinge about the term “mansplaining” actually used that time and energy to sit down and read a book like Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit. What a world! This extended essay examines what goes wrong in conversations between men and women, a fraught subject no matter the title we whack on it. It’s provocative to even ask the question – “why do men assume they know things, and assume women don’t?” – but Solnit goes forth and answers it. Good on her!

Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman

Terra Nullius - Claire G Coleman - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Alright, this one might take some explaining for Keeper Upperers outside of Australia. First, you need to know that Claire G. Coleman is an awesome kick-arse Wirlomin-Noongar-Australian woman and writer. Second, the doctrine of “terra nullius” is a particularly disgusting defence for invading a country, employed by the British back in the 18th century (and others, naturally, but they’re the ones most relevant here). Basically, “terra nullius” means that land belongs to nobody; in the case of Australia, it meant that the British declared the First Nations people who had been living and working and thriving here for over 50,000 years simply didn’t exist (and, even if they did, they didn’t have any rights to the land on which they lived and worked and thrived). Unbelievable as it may seem, this is still a controversial issue in Australia, with some insisting that this continent was, in fact, “nobody’s land” when the British arrived. So, it was a pretty ballsy move for Coleman to call her novel Terra Nullius – doubly so given the book’s content (an all-too-real speculative fiction about the Settlers and Natives). Read my full review of Terra Nullius here.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F**k by Mark Manson

The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck - Mark Manson - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

There was a lot of hand-wringing and brouhaha about profanity and book titles when the trend first took off. I’ve got to say, I’m a fan. There should be more of it, I say! (Better that than “girls” who get maimed and murdered, or women who are only identified as “wives” or “daughters.) As best I can tell, it all kicked off with The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F**k (yes, shamefully bleeped in an official capacity), the self-help book by Mark Manson. A lot of the controversy seemed to center on “but what if children see it?”, and to that I say this: if an f-bomb is the worst kind of bomb your children have to worry about, they’re living a charmed life and you need to chill the fuck out.

They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera

They Both Die At The End - Adam Silvera - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Ah, They Both Die At The End: the book that rendered the spoiler alert meaningless! There was a lot of talk around the time of publication as to whether Silvera had shot himself in the foot, whether readers wouldn’t bother reading the book (why would they, if they already know how it ends?). As far as I can see, those fears bore no fruit at all. This one sold gangbusters, probably because it was a breath of fresh air: a book that made no bones about its miserable ending, but still made a cracking yarn. Plus, what a relief for book reviewers like me, who truly stink at spoiler warnings! At last, we can read and review in peace!

You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead by Marieke Hardy

You'll Be Sorry When I'm Dead - Marieke Hardy - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Isn’t this the dream of every memoir writer? To put down for posterity all the awful things that anyone ever did or said to you (real or imagined), only to have them read ’em and weep once you shuffle off the mortal coil? Surely, it can’t just be me and Marieke Hardy! You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead must have sent a shiver up the spines of everyone who’s ever wronged her on release day. Still, it’s all in good fun; Hardy even tries to give her ex-lovers and friends a right of reply. This funny and full-frontal memoir lives up to the provocation of it’s title.

So, how are you feeling? Did any of these titles provoke you into reading one of these books? Let me know in the comments!


  1. You’ve come up with some interesting books Sheree. I think there are a few there that I wouldn’t pick up but They Both Die in the End appeals to purely for the title.

  2. They are great titles indeed! I’ve only read The Subtle Art… out of that list, and I do think Mark Manson is on to something in this egotistical, anxiety ridden era of ours 🙂 I’ve had Men Explain Things to Me on my radar for a while.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      February 2, 2021 at 12:41 AM

      He certainly seems to be resonating, especially during the current time of isolation and fear. Thanks, Paula!

  3. You definitely sound Woke and bit twisted. . Its always someone who has never had children that tells us what our children should see, LOL (re: The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F**k).

    • Sheree

      July 8, 2023 at 1:33 PM

      Woke and twisted, that’s me! 😉 You definitely sound uptight and a bit presumptuous yourself, Joe, LOL. Thanks for stopping by!

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